For this #MarriageMonday, we’re sharing an adapted excerpt of Is There Really Sex After Kids? In the midst of diapers, dishes, and soccer games, how do we find emotional oneness? How do we deepen our intimacy level outside the bedroom? Intimacy builders help us communicate, connect emotionally, and make the marriage a priority.
Jill: With Valentine’s Day approaching, many of us have love on our mind. Around this holiday, we often start thinking about gestures first, such as buying flowers, chocolates, jewelry, or a card. Or we simply think about the physical aspect of intimacy.
Mark: Gestures are special, and we by no means want to communicate that they are not meaningful. However, this is the perfect time of year to talk about the difference between showing you care and deepening intimacy. Jill and I have found it helpful to use the definition of intimacy as “in to me see.” As we’re thinking about love, how are we thinking about deepening the emotional connection we have with our spouse?
Jill: When we experience emotional intimacy in marriage, there is a natural progression to physical intimacy. When we know one another in the nakedness of our emotions, we desire to know one another in nakedness of our bodies. That is God’s design for intimacy in marriage. He desires for us to experience emotional oneness, which leads to physical oneness.
Mark: Life is busy, though. How is it possible to prioritize emotional intimacy? Here are four intimacy builders for you to try:
#1: Kitchen Time
Jill: Communication is a key ingredient in building intimacy. With all the demands children (and life overall) bring within the home, communication is often one of the first things to go. We have to be intentional in our pursuit of communication or it simply will not happen. That’s where kitchen time makes a difference!
Mark: Kitchen time is an intentional plan to set aside time to talk each day. Specifically, it is a time to talk through your expectations for the evening, as well as a time to reconnect after being apart for the day. It’s a time to share thoughts, fears, and struggles. It’s a time to strategize schedules. More than anything, it is a time to build connection.
Jill: My friend Mary and her husband, Harry, do their kitchen time right after dinner each evening. This works well with Harry’s work schedule. According to Mary, if they have evening plans or activities, he calls her before coming home and they have their kitchen time over the phone.
Mark: Whether this happens when you get home from work, after the kids go to bed, or another time that works for your schedule, the goal here is to simply talk, finishing with one very important question: What do you need tonight? I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the unity you feel by incorporating this into your routine!
#2: Three-Question Technique
Jill: Alongside communication, listening is one of the most important intimacy-building communication gifts that God has given couples. It’s often been said that listening is so important to God that he gave us one mouth and two ears. He wants us to listen to one another.
Mark: Too often we listen to correct, to make a point, to interrupt, or to eventually talk about ourselves. But we must learn to listen to hear what our spouses are saying, as well as to hear what they are feeling! When we listen to one another, we build intimacy. Remember, “into-me-see” can happen only when we take the time to see into another’s life. Listening allows us to do just that.
Jill: How often do you talk with your spouse only to turn the conversation to your agenda? Instead, try using the three-question technique to help you move away from that intimacy-robbing habit. Basically, the three-question technique is asking three questions before saying anything about yourself.
Mark: Bobbie and Myron Yagel explain this very well in their book 15 Minutes to Build a Stronger Marriage: “With this technique, we listen intently enough to be able to ask three questions before we say ‘I’ or before we switch the conversation to our perspective, interests, or problems.” Our goal is to keep the attention focused on the speaker.
Jill: So the next time your spouse is telling you something about their day, work to ask at least three follow-up questions before you share something about yourself. By using this strategy, you’ll communicate that they are worth listening to, deepening your connection and helping them feel seen and understood.
Mark: Spouses who travel pose a different kind of challenge to building intimacy. Because their daily time together is nonexistent or occurs in a phone conversation, they often find themselves feeling disconnected. When the spouse returns home, the couple may struggle with physical intimacy because of the distance they have experienced. It’s not a hopeless challenge, though!
Jill: At its core, reconnection is simple strategy: The purpose here is to simply plan a time to connect emotionally first after being apart for a time. Here’s a look at my friends Doris and Charlie to illustrate the reconnection process:
Charlie has a job that takes him away from the home for weeks at a time. During one of his many travel assignments, I chatted with Doris over a cup of tea. She talked about how difficult it was when Charlie returned home. She shared that often she felt distant from him. Eventually we talked about their differing sexual expectations they faced when he returned home. Our conversation went something like this:
Doris: “Charlie is coming home this weekend. I’ve missed him so much I can hardly wait. At the same time, I hate it when he comes home.”
Doris: “Do you know what the first thing is on his mind? He’s talking about sex before he’s even home! It’s not that I don’t want to have sex; I just can’t go there immediately! We haven’t seen each other for weeks!”
Me: “Doris, are you familiar with the concept of reconnection?”
Doris: “No, what’s that?”
Me: “Reconnection is the intentional plan to reconnect as a husband and wife emotionally, before you reconnect physically. It’s a time to reconnect in your marriage before he is thrust back into the role of hands-on daddy. It’s a necessary intimacy builder when you have been apart for a time. Try this: When Charlie comes home this Friday, meet him at the airport.”
Doris: “I don’t ever meet him at the airport. He leaves his car there!”
Me: “You’re not meeting him for logistical purposes but to build intimacy. Meet him and take a half hour to get a piece of pie at a restaurant near the airport. Fill each other in on the details of the trip, details of home, and talk about plans for the first few days at home. Then see how the rest of your weekend goes.
Well, I didn’t hear from Doris until Sunday, when she told me about her wonderful weekend. She said it was the best weekend they had experienced since her husband began traveling. And she said that the physical relationship naturally flowed out of their reconnection date. Because they had connected emotionally, they were able to connect physically! It was a winning strategy.
Mark: When you think about it, kitchen time is really a form of reconnection. By strategically planning for staying connected and investing in your relationship whether you’ve been apart several hours or several days, you are setting the stage for a marriage that goes the distance.
#4: Date Nights
Jill: When Mark and I first met, we purposefully spent time together. Our culture calls this dating, and most of us mistakenly believe it is useful only until the wedding day. Married couples need to continue dating throughout their wedded life to keep their relationship a priority. If not, we begin to operate as roommates rather than lovers. Then we find ourselves feeling unappreciated and unloved.
Mark: Exactly. There are three types of dates that are important to our marriage: Daily dates, weekly or biweekly dates, and annual dates.
Jill: Daily dates are the little acts of love and appreciation we show for one another each day. A hug in the morning. A passionate kiss in the afternoon. A note tucked in a briefcase. A phone call in the middle of the day just to touch base. A lipstick message written on the bathroom mirror. Kitchen time. These are all daily dates, and they are essential to a healthy marriage. They take nothing more than effort and thoughtfulness to accomplish, yet their benefit is invaluable.
Mark: Weekly or biweekly dates are planned outings without children. Just like the dates before we were married, these dates are planned, purposeful times spent together. Usually consisting of several hours alone, weekly or biweekly outings help us to focus on each other without the distraction of being a hands-on parent at the same time. They give us time to talk, share, strategize, dream, and plan for the future. They give us much needed eye-to-eye communication.
Jill: Dates don’t have to cost money, either! There are creative ways to spend time together that don’t require money. You could pack a picnic and go to a park, take a drive in the country, ask a friend to watch the kids so you and your spouse can enjoy your favorite homemade meal in the privacy of your own home. Have fun thinking of inexpensive dates you and your spouse will enjoy!
Mark: Annual dates are the getaways every marriage also needs. These overnights are designed to keep the romance in the relationship. Mark and I find that these are the times that help us remember who we are as a couple—not as mom and dad. They also help us recall the very things that attracted us to one another in the first place. Getaways instill a sense of fun and spontaneity in a marriage relationship. They can be anything from one night alone in a local hotel to a weeklong vacation for just the two of you!
Jill: It is tempting to let the marital relationship run on autopilot. Time, energy, and sometimes even money are necessary to keep the marriage flames burning. Often it is a hassle to make arrangements for the kids, pack the diaper bag or suitcases if an overnight is on the agenda, and arrange for care in your absence. But it is a hassle that comes with a huge benefit: marriage intimacy in the midst of the busyness of life.
Mark: We cannot wait until children leave home to invest in our marriages. We have to do it now—for ourselves and for them. If not, we’ll wake up next to our spouse in 20 years and say, “Who are you?” By investing now, we prevent bankruptcy later. In fact, what happens inside the bedroom is a reflection of what happens outside the bedroom. Commit today to incorporate kitchen time into your afternoon. Make it a point to ask three questions of your spouse each time he or she shares something about themselves. Plan for reconnection dates after you’ve been apart for a time. Finally, return to dating your spouse. Love on each other daily. Go out weekly or biweekly. And get away at least once a year for an overnight.
Jill: Looking to improve your love life? Start today by incorporating some intimacy builders into your marriage every single day. As you do so, you will find you are building a firm, marriage-centered foundation for your family.
Let us know: What stood out to you? What do you plan to implement in your marriage?
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